An Interview with Anthony Joseph: Afrofuturism, Black Surrealism, Sonic Revolution

By Samridhi Aggarwal, Esther de Bruijn and Anthony Joseph

The following interview with Anthony Joseph was conducted by Samridhi Aggarwal (Joint PhD Scholar with the National University of Singapore) on 5 December, 2022 in a seminar for the module Afrofuturism.[1]

The conversation covers several topics, which we’ve divided into sections for those who’d like to dip in and collect gems of insights on Afrofuturism, black surrealism, black stealth, the revolutionary force of music, and practicing writing into being. Anthony talks about his album The Rich Are Only Defeated When Running for Their Lives (2021) and his novel The African Origins of UFOs (2006), and we’ve reproduced the excerpts of the novel that he read on the day.


Afrofuturism for the Present


SA: There have been quite a few definitions of Afrofuturism. What does Afrofuturism mean to you as an artist?


AJ: I think it’s the same as the term ‘world music’. It’s a marketing term. It’s a way of categorising a particular type of writing for the benefit of publishers and for the benefit of readers. It’s hard to trace where Afrofuturism actually begins. As a literary idea, it’s very Western, and it starts in the 1930s and the 1940s with people like George Schuyler. But, of course, the idea of black folk thinking about space has been around forever. Were the ancient Egyptians Afrofuturist? Were the Dogon who were able to map the Dog Star and know the densities of stars, were they Afrofuturists? When they were building their homes in the shape of spaceships, were they Afrofuturists? Was Afrofuturism in Latin America, where people were building pyramids and drawing spacemen? It’s hard to find where it actually begins. For me, it’s a marketing term, and it’s the same as world music, where the name comes after the thing is already in existence. That’s probably a controversial way of looking at it.

But Afrofuturism, actually, on the other style, is a style and an approach of writing, usually by black folk who are incorporating elements of science and science fiction and speculative fiction into their work. That’s the easy way of looking at it. For the introduction to this book [The African Origins of UFOs], Lauri Ramey gives a pretty good definition. She says that what the book does, and what a lot of Afrofuturism does, is that it goes into the future to correct the wrongs of the past. A lot of Afrofuturist writers use technology and science to think of a future in which they could critique and correct certain things that happened in the historical past that were troubling like slavery, for instance, racism. Afrofuturism gives us a tool with which to critique and explore these things in a futuristic sense, with the mask of a future.


SA: So, for you it’s the mask of a future that is, in a way, critiquing and trying to correct the mistakes of the past?


JA: Yes, but as you guys probably know, I don’t think science fiction is all about the future. It’s not completely about future technology. It’s also about present technology. We’re looking into the future to correct the past, and we’re also, at the same time, looking at where we are now. Science fiction is a way of critiquing where we are now. It’s usually a parable or analogy of somebody trying to make a comment on our present society. If you look at, say, Arthur C. Clarke, there’s an undertone of social critique going on there, and it’s making a comment on the present time. When I did my book, I was commenting on the past as well as the present. I wasn’t really critiquing the future. It’s a critique of where we are now.


Black Surrealist Writing


SA: When you say it’s a critique of the past as well as the present, it reminds me of a term that you used in your album [The Rich Are Only Defeated When Running for Their Lives]: the ‘black surrealists’. A lot of black surrealism does derive from that. It’s a dynamicity of the past, the occult imagining, the mythology of the past and understanding how it can effectively unpack and reshape the present. How does your vision of black surrealism impact your work as an Afrofuturist?


JA: Allen Ginsberg, who’s an American poet, says a really important thing: he says, ‘form is what happens’. So you do the work, and then someone comes and says, ‘Oh! That’s a particular kind of poem’. The form that the thing takes, what we call ‘black surrealism’ or whatever, is just the form. It’s just what happens after. It’s just a way of naming it. But black writers and poets and performers have been surrealists since we began writing. Anyone who’s familiar with African mythology, West African mythic stories will know that these people were doing some serious stuff, had some serious ideas. So surrealism is nothing new to Africa, or nothing new to the Caribbean, or nothing new to Asia. In fact, André Breton, who was the founder of the surrealist movement in Paris, a lot of his ideas came from African sculpture and African mythology and Polynesian mythology. He drew—like Europeans do all the time, they draw on these ideas and these iconographies from Africa or Asia or India or wherever it is, they absorb it into their system, and they put it back out and call it something else. And because the West has a monopoly on academia, it becomes this ‘ism’ that people have created. I’m being controversial, I know, but that’s how I look at it. And that’s the truth.

But we could look at it isolated. Okay, surrealism, what does it mean to me? It means that as a black writer, as a Caribbean writer, I’m interested in using the unconscious as a way of generating ideas.

I came to surrealism as a writer. I’ve been writing since I was 11 years old. That’s a long time ago. And I was writing, writing, writing, writing. And the more you write is the more you learn about how language works, and you learn the tools. It’s like if you’re playing an instrument. If you’re learning the saxophone, and you practice eight hours a day for 20 years, after that 20 years, you’re going to be able to do anything you want on the sax, you’re going to be a master of the instrument. And it’s the same with language. If you write and dedicate yourself to poetry or writing, at the end of 20 years, working like that, you’re going to be really on top of your game in terms of knowing how to use language, and you begin to take chances, you begin to take risks, and you begin to experiment with language, to take shortcuts, to see how far you can stretch meaning and ideas, to see how far you can leave a gap between what the language is saying and what it actually means. You begin to experiment, and I was doing that.

And then I came to London, I was writing, and then I realised that the things that I really enjoyed about writing were the gaps, were the places in the poems that I was writing where it felt that things were going really weird and they lost control, and the syntax became strange, and I was, like, ‘Wow, I really like this style’, and I kept writing like that. And then a friend of mine, French-Canadian, who I met in a bookshop—I was working in a bookshop—came to me and said, ‘You know, this is very similar to a lot of surrealist work’. And I started reading about surrealism, and I realised I was a surrealist. I realised that what I was doing was essentially surrealism.

So I got deeply involved in surrealism, not as a religious pursuit, but as a real aesthetic pursuit. I became a surrealist. Every day I was writing in a trance. I was doing automatic writing. I was doing whatever it took to generate access to the unconscious, whatever that might be—meditation, drugs, music, listening to particular types of music and writing at the same time. The surrealists have a range of techniques and a range of really difficult practices in order to access the unconscious. And I did a lot of that. I did that for years, and I thought, this is what I was, I was surrealist. And I enjoyed being that. And I still am. I still consider myself a surrealist poet. So that’s what it means. It’s a long-winded thing, but it’s important.


SA: I think that that ‘long-winded thing’, the long explanation that you gave, gave us so much  insight into the kind of material that we are looking at. And it’s such a beautiful trajectory that the language and the shape, the form of it, came to you before you actually realised what form you were engaging with.


AJ: Yeah, absolutely, I think it’s always like that. Form is what happens. I think that if you set out to be a surrealist poet, if you say, ‘I’m going to become a surrealist poet’, your work is crap. It’s terrible. Because you can’t do it like that.  It has to come to you. You have to do it and find it. You can’t just become it. I’ve seen people try it. It doesn’t work. It’s contrived.


The Rich Are Only Defeated When Running for Their Lives:

Stealth and Sonic Revolution


SA: Part of the reason Esther put your album The Rich Are Only Defeated When Running for Their Lives—which is ,of course, a line from C. L. R. James’ The Black Jacobins—on the module is so that we can specifically talk about the sonic nature of Afrofuturism. And now that you’ve given this whole trajectory of how you came across it as a form, maybe you could also dive in and tell us a bit more about the things you use in it, for instance, ‘liquid textology’ and ‘secret technology’; you use those terms a lot. Maybe you could talk to us more about it in the sense of oral technology and the verbal text that you are trying to put together.


AJ: Yes. There is a tradition in black culture and black aesthetics that involves stealth, that involves secrecy, necessarily so because a lot of times people were brought as slaves and subjugated and had to hide, to have their religious practices, they had to hide. So they found ways of hiding what they were doing behind practices which looked normal. So, for instance, the blues, blues music. If you listen to a lot of blues music—Anyone ever listen to blues music? Really old 1920s, ‘30s blues music?—there’s a lot of hidden codes in there, there’s a lot of hidden messages within the blues about escape, about freedom, about flight. ‘Swing down, sweet chariot / Stop and let me ride’. There’s a hidden thing about using the underground railroad and getting an escape. So a lot of black literature, and a lot of black folkloric practice has this idea of stealth and secrecy embedded in it.

And, as a writer, I contextualise myself within that culture. That’s part of my aesthetic culture, a black Caribbean aesthetic. So I’m drawing on that. I grew up in Trinidad, and my grandparents were members of this church called the Spiritual Baptist church, so I used to have to go to the services. Luckily, there are strict rules about how you become a Spiritual Baptist. You can only become it as an adult. You can’t be born into the religion. I was too young. So, I didn’t become a Spiritual Baptist, but that’s the church that I grew up in it, and that is an example of using secrecy. Because they would have pictures of Jesus Christ and Mary and all these Christian iconographies, but on the floor, they’d have vévé, marks, directly from voodoo, they’ll have markings and certain flowers that they would use, certain rhythms in their singing. It was all African. But they hid behind this Christian façade. So if anyone came, they’d say, ‘Oh, they’re just Christians’. But they’re not. They’re doing all these African practices in the back.  So that sort of idea became very important to me, as a writer, the idea of using stealth. So that’s where the idea of ‘secret technology’ comes from.

‘Liquid textology’ is simply, for me, words that flow. That’s all it is. Words that manage to flow in a way like if they’re liquid, molten. Words that flow. I think that’s what poetry is.

The idea of stealth is important. Hiding things. Being secret, It’s important. A lot of Afrofuturism is about that. Hiding. Black No More. Schuyler again: a black man who becomes white and pretends to be white to get through the world. It’s stealth. He’s hiding.


SA: I think that was exactly the kind of answer we needed to understand not just your vision of it but also how we try and derive it from a longer history of Afro-sonic futurism.


AJ: Sonics. Yeah, I forgot. I do have something to say about the sonic culture of Afrofuturism. Coming from the blues, coming from African-American music, this idea of stealth, this idea of the music saying one thing but being something else. I think you find that a lot in jazz, and for me, the sonic, the feel of Afrofuturism is definitely tied to jazz. It’s tied to New Orleans jazz. It’s tied to improvisation. It’s tied to the blues. It’s tied to, of course, rhythm. That becomes free jazz in the ‘60s, and that’s Sun Ra, stuff like that. It’s really important for Afrofuturism.


SA: It’s good that you mention Sun Ra because my next question is actually about that as well. In your poem ‘The Ark’, which Esther told me you performed at Café OTO in November, Sun Ra’s name comes up first, and Octavia Butler is in the middle, and the final person is Spaceape. How do these Afrofuturists serve as influences for you? Particularly in The Rich Are Only Defeated, it seems like the jazz pays homage to Sun Ra’s Arkestra.


AJ: I don’t see myself as just one kind of writer. I don’t see myself as just a surrealist poet or just an Afrofuturist. I see myself as a writer, as a Caribbean person who’s writing across a range of things. Sun Ra was extremely important to me simply because he was someone that had a vision, he had an overriding vision of what he wanted to do with music, and he created this whole concept of where he was from Saturn, and he kind of ran that through. He was consistent. And I thought that was admirable. The music was amazing. There was a lot of poetry in the music. He was ahead of his time. That’s why he’s in the Ark. But you don’t have to dead to be in the Ark. You can be alive and be in the Ark as well.

And Spaceape, does anybody know Spaceape? You should check him out. You know the music dubstep. Spaceape was a dubstep poet who was maybe a year younger than me, who died about 10 years ago now, died really young, of cancer. But he was a really important black British experimental poet, who did a lot of stuff with dubstep music. His stuff was definitely futuristic. He was using a Jamaican patois over dubstep rhythms. It’s great. So check him out. Spaceape.


SA: They’ve all got that written down now. In the previous class, Esther was talking about the distinction between artistic and violent revolution, and in your song ‘Swing Praxis’, you say,

considering the lack

of a truly beautiful, violent revolution,

we establish ourselves as mediums for change.

Would you talk about how swing can be ‘a template for revolution’?


AJ: Well, the idea behind ‘Swing Praxis’ is quite simple. We as black musicians, have created some really phenomenal types of music, like swing—is one—the blues, reggae, different kinds of jazz, free jazz. Ornette Coleman, who is a really incredible jazz musician of the 20th century, created an idea called ‘harmolodics’. His idea was that if you have a band, that you could all improvise simultaneously as long as you came back to a pre-agreed chord or note. So, let’s say we’re all improvising, and we say, ‘Okay, at the end of this, we’re going to come back to the note G. You can play whatever you like, but we’re going to end on G’. He believed that it created freedom; there was order, but freedom as well embedded in it. So we’ve created all these ideas. You know, funk is really interesting. If anyone has studied music, the way funk works is really fascinating. A funk beat would be like, ‘boom ba ba ba da, boom ba mm ba boom ba doo dum’, and we’re listening to the drum beat, but what creates the funk and what creates the swing is not the beat; it’s the space in between [demonstrates the ‘boom’ and space]. Between that ‘boom’ and the next one, it’s that space. The body sinks into that space.

These are interesting ideas. They’re music, but they’re ideas as well. The idea of ‘Swing Praxis’ was that we could use some of those technologies, some of those ideas, some of those aesthetics—the idea of swing, for instance, of a band, collectively moving and swinging in a rhythm, or out of rhythm, but staying constant and creating movement. That’s a tool for revolution. If we use that as a group as a collective, and say, ‘This is how we’re gonna approach this thing: we’re going to move together, but we’re going to be kind of out of step with everything else, but we’re going to stay in sync with each other, but we’re going to move outside of the norm’. That’s revolutionary thinking.

It was saying, ‘Okay, let’s use the musical ideas as philosophical ideas’. And it came out of the whole George Floyd issue, seeing what happened with George Floyd. And I felt that we needed something, we needed a way of bringing people together. And since revolutionary ideology and revolutionary talk hasn’t done it, you know—a lot of people have stood up and said, ‘Okay, let’s get together and have revolution and blah, blah, blah’. It doesn’t happen. Those people get shot. So no one does it. But the other way I thought of doing it was through the music. I think in a way that’s what hip hop was doing. Hip hop has done that. But unfortunately, hip hop got sucked into capitalist America. And now it’s something else. Yeah.


SA: So, you’re using music and the philosophy behind it and the gaps within it to formulate your own revolutionary discourse.


JA: Yes.


SA: In your song ‘Language’, we find these lines:

It was language which formed nations

And decolonised our minds

A new language

Rooted deep in the resonance of the drum …

In the cry of the horn

It was language which freed us from ourselves.

Could you talk about this language in the drum and horn and its decolonising power?


AJ: What that whole verse is trying to say—Kamau Brathwaite was a Barbadian poet and scholar. And he says that it was in language that the slave was most held captive. And it was with language that they most violently rebelled. If you control someone’s language you control everything about them. So what Caribbean people—he was talking about people in the Caribbean—what we’ve done is create a language that is unique to the Caribbean. If you speak to a Jamaican person, they have a particular language, and you wouldn’t understand it unless you really ask them to repeat it, and even so, you wouldn’t get it. It’s difficult. It’s another language. So it’s a language that is freeing them, that’s freeing these people. It’s a Creole that frees us. It’s a nation language that frees us both from slavery and from the tyranny of the English language. Because the English language is a tool for suppression, imperialism. It’s an imperial language. As Caribbean people, we had to find a way of freeing ourselves from that. And the way we did it was to create a new language. And that’s what this is about.

So, if I speak to you in Trinidadian patois, you’d be like, ‘What? What’s he saying? What’s he saying?’ There are English words you can pick out, but the rest of it will be like, ‘I don’t know what he’s saying’. It’s a new language. And that is what we can use. Again: stealth—to communicate amongst ourselves. Yeah. Yeah. That’s it.


SA: It’s great that you mentioned Kamau Brathwaite at the beginning of this because my next question is about the number of seer or prophet figures in your poetry. Would you talk about the Baptist preacher aesthetic of your speaker? You’ve spoken about Baptist spirituality. But would you also say that it’s meant to shade into a shaman or Obeah priest figure? In ‘Kamau’, for example, the priestly sound of calling things into being stands out. Obviously, seer-like figures also feature prominently in Afrofuturist texts. So how would you how would you talk about?


AJ: That’s an iconic figure, the Obeah man, the preacher man in black culture; it’s such an important iconic figure. And I think it goes back to West African Ifa, which is a whole sort of cosmological system. But in Ifa (I’m not an expert in it), there’s a god, a being called Legba, who’s like the guardian of the crossroads. And he’s a sort of intermediary between Earth and the Heavens or the other world. And he can allow you access into there, or he can stop you. I think a lot of the iconography and a lot of the ideas about the preacher, the black preacher, comes from that. You’re standing at the crossroads, and he’s giving you access or preventing you. That’s what these preachers do.

And they do it with oratory. They speak. They talk. I grew up, as I said, going to the Baptist Church and hearing a lot of these guys do their thing. I learned a lot about performance from watching them, these preachers. They were amazing. They could hold you—and these services were like 4 hours long. And you’d sit there for 4 hours and be just enthralled by them, their speech, their rhythm. You know, you’ve seen it. A lot of black American TV shows have this preacher [imitates voice], and their voice is powerful. So yeah, that’s really important. But it’s not always a man. There were women, too, that were doing this. But generally, yeah, the people that I grew up seeing in the church do this, they were men. So it’s an iconic figure. It’s a classic element of black iconography, the preacher.


SA: On a related point, on your earlier album Rubber Orchestras, the blurb names you as a ‘preacher-soothsayer’ who is ‘inhabited by a vision of the world as a cosmic whole where music creates an organic communion’. Could you speak to that?


JA: I didn’t write that, so I can’t really comment. I don’t know. I don’t see myself as a Christian. Not at all. Not at all. I’m not religious. I don’t see myself in that way. But I know that, as a performer, yeah, I definitely have elements of that oratorical style. Absolutely. But that other stuff, that’s journalism. That’s not me.


SA: Thank you for putting up with this journalistic stuff! And thank you for your insightful answers and discussion. I think we’re going to dive into the reading of your novel.


The African Origins of UFO’s


JA: Yeah, I’ll read a couple of things. I’m gonna talk about this book, The African Origins of UFOs. This was my first novel. I wanted to talk to you about it because it’s now become part of the Afrofuturist canon. It’s studied in quite a lot of universities, both here and abroad. I’m not boasting, I’m just saying. It is what it is. It’s become quite a canonical book because there’s very few Afrofuturist novels from the Caribbean, that deal with the Caribbean. There’s a few now, but when I did this, when I started writing this in the mid ‘90s—I worked on it for about 10 years. It came out in 2006—when it came out, Afrofuturism was still relatively new as an idea, as a category. So there weren’t a lot of novels, especially from the Caribbean.

Something happened around the mid-‘90s, for me. A few things happened at the same time. I was working in a bookshop in Piccadilly, and I had access to loads of books, and I was reading a lot. And I started reading a lot of science fiction. I started reading Samuel Delany, who’s a black American science fiction writer. And I was amazed that there was black science fiction writers. There was Octavia Butler. I started reading her. I don’t know how I came across them. I guess, just working in the shop and looking at the backs of books. So I started reading them. And then I met a guy – I think I told you about him, this guy who said, ‘Oh, what you’re doing is surrealism’. He introduced me to Franz Fanon, who was a Martinican philosopher. He introduced me to a lot of black radical thinkers, like Fanon, like Édouard Glissant, like Aimé Césaire, Suzanne Césaire. He introduced me to a range of people like that. So I started reading a lot of black literature around liberation and revolutionary thought. And that combined with science fiction.

And then I read a guidebook about Trinidad, and there was a historical part of it. And one of the stories they told was about this guy called Daaga, who was a West African, who had arrived in the Caribbean on a Spanish ship. But he came into the Caribbean on this ship after slavery had been abolished in the British islands. So it was illegal to transport slaves to the English Caribbean at that time; this was mid-1800s, 1830, 1832, something like that. So the British seized the Spanish ship. They took all the cargo, which was a load of slaves, and they found this guy on board called Daaga, and he was so powerful and apparently tall, 6 foot 6 and muscular, as all these slaves tended to be at that time. I don’t know why. They took him and they put him in the army, in the regiment. They had a British Western regiment of ex-slaves, which was interesting. So they put him there. But he started a revolt in the barracks because he wanted to get back to Africa. And he decided that he was going to walk back to Africa. And I was reading that, and I was very moved because I was like, ‘Dude, you’re in Trinidad. You’re on an island, man. How are you gonna get back to Africa?’

So, all of these ideas started coming together, and I thought, ‘Ah, you know what, I’m going to write about him. And how am I going to get into Africa? How is that going to happen? No, I’m going to put him in a spaceship. I’m going to get him into a spaceship. And I’m going to send them off to find Africa. But he never finds Africa. Because it’s actually a metaphor. The whole thing became a metaphor for the search for black identity and for the search of blackness. Because this was what I was reading. I was reading Fanon and trying to find out what it meant to be black. So this guy Daaga sets off in this ship and can never find Africa. And the idea was that UFOs, when we see UFOs flying about, they’re actually these Africans still trying to find Africa. So that’s why it’s called The African Origins of UFOs.

I’ll read the first chapter. And then I’ll read the last chapter. One thing I gotta say, though, is that my fiction tends to be really hardcore. Some of it is X-rated. Some of it is obscene. Some of it is naughty. In this book, I use the word ‘N****r’ a few times. I don’t do it now, but back then, I guess I was an angry young black man.



His voice had the deep burrr of a man who kept fishhooks in his beard. So I put on my white muslin jumpsuit, slid sleeves and levers tight, pulled my hair shut with Sirian beeswax and en-route superterranean to Toucan Bay via Antimatic Congo Pump I met Cain waiting with the contraband: 8 grams of uncut Ceboletta X. And while Cain stroked a reefer the size of Mozambique rolled in a roti skin, I held my head wide open for the suck with a nasal>oral siphon and was so oiled and eager for Joe Sam’s return to Houdini’s that night that I sped there, down near the jetty where fishgutfunk fumed furiously and found copious peoples rubbing belly to back, hacking heels—knee deep in ditchdiggern****rsweat!

That naked island funk was steady lickin’ hips with polyrhythmic thunderclaps! Does the Berta butt boogie? Do bump hips? Flip’n spin’n bop’n finger pop’n/subaquantum bass lines pumping pure people-riddim funk like snake rubber twisting in aluminium bucket, reverberating ’round the frolic house with a heavy heartbeat, causing black to buck and shiver—


The very groove caused coons to stumble loose and slide on Saturnalian pomade until their conks collapsed. The sound possessed more swing than bachelor galvanise in hurricane, more sting than jab-jab whip, more bone than gravedigger boots and more soul than African trumpet bone. It was that pure emotive speed that once improvised harmolodic funk to Buddy Bolden’s punk jazz on the banks of Lake Pontchartrain, double bass still reverberating through space-time like long lost Afronauts on orbiting saxophones. And the solid sound did shook Spiritual Baptist shacks with rhythm, till the Sankey hymns they sung became cryptic mantras that slid like secrets through water.

Up the varnished teak banister, ever afrodizziac in Indian red, with her high sepia ‘fro, far east eyes and blood black morello lips borrowed from a jealous mirror, Madame Sweetbum peeps then leans back on her arse for support. Puffin’ good genk and inspecting vinyl imprints in dry blue light, releasing slap after slap of the raw boned and ancient Afrolypso she kept in titanium sleeves – sacred 45s so sharp rip slippers off feet till steam hisses from her radiogram. Madame Sweetbum had negroes wringing brine! Her hi-hat kickin’ fat back an’ brass, swingin’ –black be boogiefull, black be slick, cryptic hustlers an’ assorted Cyberpimps in stingy brim fedoras, scissor-tongued vipers in snakeskin brogues, in pleated pollywool zoot suits with sawed off buckshots in their lapels. Nubile Supian woman throwing waist like whip­snake, slip slide/rabid-eyed by stiff crotched coons in erection boots, leaning at the bar boppin’ bulbous foreheads an’ burnin’ for flesh.[2]


And it goes on.  But that’s what came first, from the voice. One day I was I was working in the bookshop. And I think everything just came together. And I started writing, and that voice came out, and that rhythm, the way of speaking, which was sort of like a futuristic pimp because this is happening in the 3053. And this guy has got this this swagger, this way of talking. The narrator’s got this way of speaking, that came to me. So that’s the voice. But the voice changes throughout the book. So that’s the voice that is that is pitched in the future. There’s a section of the book that is in the present, and there’s one that’s in the past.

The other thing that happened around that time, besides the Fanon and reading the guidebook to Trinidad about Daaga and surrealism was I was reading a guy called Timothy Leary. Timothy Leary was an American psychologist, theorist, writer, hippie, crazy guy who was around in the ‘60s, and he coined the term ‘tune in, turn on, drop out’. He was a big advocate for LSD, basically. He thought everyone should just be high. And that got him thrown out of the American sort of medical fraternity. And he became quite radical and—he’s a hippy—he became quite a rebel. So he started moving around America trying to get people to take acid. And he was friends with all the poets and friends with Bob Dylan and people like that, a very influential guy in the ‘60s.

But before he died in the early 2000s, I think, he wrote a book called The Art of Dying, which is amazing, which is powerful. It was his last work, and he condensed all his ideas about life into this book. The idea that he had in there was that if you look at the history of human consciousness, we evolve through 24 stages. And those stages are broken up into sections of three. And each of those sections has an element. In the first section, which is the past, human life started in water. So the past is represented by water. The central section, which is earth, is reflected in the ground and earth and dirt. And then the future is space. He mapped that out. And I took that structure of 24 stages, so there are 24 chapters in the book. And the book goes between the future, the present, the past, the future, the present, past, future present past, 24 times. That’s the structure. It’s a mathematical structure.

Let’s read something that has a different tone and maybe not so much naughty words.


… they set off to walk back to Africa

Dry word

So bruised and whipped with the blood of thorns, I’m ready


to step through the eye of the vortex. Fixing a mask, a

wooden helmet,

Bay leaf skull plate and shake to loose them lazy bones, put bells on this bamboo saxophone.

Ma Mara she whisper a word to protect me on this starflight. Ceboletta X give me strength. Mara placed beads of siderite, obi seed and psychic nut in a glass, marigold yellow for

spirit force, magnet root for clandestine theo­logical exegesis. She crack bergamot and ylang ylang oil and a pale blue halo begin to buzz; absorbing and absolving, becoming a transparent mirror, transmuting and receiving in a synapse like spirit bass walking five note natural scales and liquid tonic triplet tones and flatted fifths that creeps in every slip of time in this room with a dense scope of feeling that rises through the palm branch roof to some apex of red umbilical light where the sun sketched its arc·noon·blue has no skeleton. Carambola: no shell, calling or in flesh indistinct.

The source of this light is high above hills ·indistinct· a hovering something shifting improbable angles on the sky lid. It seems to transverse parallax and tremor in the stiff breeze, to shiver in the yellow Poui tree. When Mara falls she collapses between breast and shoulder. And her water tumbles. And her kidney fails, and she falls spinning


spinning …

Mother Mara, brown the hue of sunburnt clay, her word ablaze with liquid text, her eyes with ancient suns. Women of the village consulted her for the moon. Even Loa sought the solace of her brow. She blessed blades and bows and brewed herbal fetishes. In exchange the conqueros would bring her baskets of ripe corn, wild coffee, Sabicu seed and Iguana meat. They made sure her ground was pressed flat. And gave her secrets for safekeeping.

Their children call her Maman of many names. She is the great goddess who eyes shine like stars—ma ye ma ya ma ra ash ma i-sis—mother Mara who sleeps in the sky but remembers all our names.

She who construct the hologram.

Moist word

Hear nah. Dey send ‘bout tutty man with plasma gun an’ jungle rat behine Daaga. But Daaga was a prince y’know, six foot six an’ bare muscle. Dem couldn’ press he so. An’ when he spoke sound like carbide bust, cuss like barber razor scraping sharpening strap. When Daaga burn down de barracks an’ jus’ take he freedom, de bossman say,

“0 jeez an’ages! He must be caught! He must not reach the ocean, he may leave the island. An’ anywhere he plant that melocyte seed blacknuss sure to spread.”

But Daaga did always say he would reach home, even if he had to walk back to Africa. A man like he would never submit to no bullwork—he too big for licks. Dey try pierce Daaga heart with overwork and rumours of wounds but he never blinkt. Dey send he alone to deep sea mine but he never weep. Dey try crack Daaga soul with de cat-o-nine but he never moan. Then one day he jus’ peep a glimpse a free an’ is run Daaga run. He run ‘cross de orange field, he run through the rainforest barefeet—sideways east an’ every precipice he climb he look back. Picka jook ‘im, bush bite. Every crease an’ every nook he scrape he wipe tracks.

Mara did know Daaga was coming. She vinegar tree musta tell she dat morning. She gi’him crack corn an’ cassava bread. She prepare a balm for him, rub palm and sole. She go inscribe sign in white chalk on a dirt floor altar and sprinkle asafetida in de four corners of her hut.

Dey say wa like fire capsize in de sky when Daada slip through the ruse. An’ when Daaga mount de atmosphere, people run to peep from under dey jalousie to see de vessel rise. An’ next day talk spread like leg round de island; from El Pena Blanca to Los Iros, how de ting shift light and fly, Daaga at de chrome an’ de antimatter pumpin’!

Long time people used to call dem flying saucer. UFO an’ space ship. Dey didn’t know then ’bout panspermic dust. Dey never get genetic flashback. Or spend nine nights on de mourning ground. But now we know different, how plenty time them object appear in de sky, was just Daaga and those he led, lost in space, drifting from place to place, still trying find where they come from.[3]


Thank you for listening folks!


SA & students: Thank you!


[1] The questions were written by Esther de Bruijn, in collaboration with Samridhi, who expertly conducted the interview in Esther’s (regrettable!) absence.

[2] Ch 1, ‘Kunu Supia’, 3-5.

[3] Ch 24, ‘The Genetic Memory of Ancient Ïerè’, 133-35.

Blog posts on King’s English represent the views of the individual authors and neither those of the English Department, nor of King’s College London.

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